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At first glance, Spruce Creek looks like many Sun Belt retirement neighborhoods. One finds the requisite golf course, tennis courts and streets with names like Country Club and Seclusion Drive. But Spruce Creek, a community of 1,300 residents near Daytona Beach, is different. A typical real estate listing might read something like this: 3 bdrms, 2 bths, 2-car grg, 2-pln hngr, 1 txwy, $300,000.
People are plane crazy here. About half of the houses have a driveway out front and a taxiway out back. Spruce Creek boasts 13 miles of paved taxiway linking private hangars to the community's runway, which was built in 1943 as a Naval Air training site. Year-round residents include 35 commercial airline pilots, some of whom commute to their jumbo jets in their single-engine prop planes. Then, too, there's actor John Travolta, an avid flyer since he was 16. Travolta owns a World War II De Havilland Vampire fighter jet, which he flies for sport, and a six-passenger Lear 24B, which he pilots to film locations.
"The planes sometimes cost more than the houses," says Bobbie Scallan, a sales representative for Spruce Creek Properties, Inc., and a Spruce Creek resident. "We have different priorities here."
It's Saturday morning in Spruce Creek, and Bobbie and her husband, Joe, who's a pilot, have joined Paul and Mary Lowe aboard the Lowes' six-passenger Piper Malibu. Paul, a retired producer of TV commercials and a confessed gadget freak, has recently added about a hundred thousand dollars' worth of state-of-the-art avionics, including a storm scope and a collision-avoidance system, to his plane. Paul steers the Malibu left onto Taxiway Lindy Loop, one of three Spruce Creek thoroughfares that accommodate both aircraft and automobile traffic. He heads toward the airport's 4,000-foot runway. "I don't fly unless I have an excuse," says Lowe as he taxis the plane. "But it doesn't take much of an excuse." Today's excuse: breakfast in Ocala, 62.1 nautical miles to the west.
When he lands, he parks alongside a couple of Piper Arrows, a V-tailed Bonanza and a Cessna Cardinal RG, in a grouping of 10 planes, all belonging to fellow members of the Spruce Creek Flying Club. The club has designated Ocala as today's weekly breakfast fly-out destination. The tiny Ocala Municipal Airport restaurant, which has been reserved in advance by the flying club, smells of omelets, bacon and coffee. As the airfolk enjoy their fly-out meal, they talk of future flights. Someone mentions the approaching weekend fly-out to New Orleans. Everyone seems enthusiastic about it. These people seem enthusiastic about any topic that comes up, as long as it has to do with air travel. The Spruce Creekers take their last sips of coffee.
The schmoozing continues out on the tarmac. It dissipates only when the travelers head back to their planes. They board and slowly form a moving queue of aircraft awaiting takeoff. Finally, everyone is headed home. The passengers gaze down upon the dusty brown thoroughbred racetracks that dot the green pastures of central Florida. What a fine breakfast.
On the return flight, Lowe detours and flies over Leeward Air Ranch, another fly-in community, which features 80 homes with hangars. A dozen of these rather odd living units line the west side of a 6,200-foot grass airstrip. Leeward is just as air-addicted as Spruce Creek; 1-800-LIV-2FLY is the phone number and prevailing spirit of the Leeward development agency. The community has a pilots-only home sales policy.
There are 500 or so hangar-home communities in the U.S., according to Dave Sclair, president of the Tacoma-based Living With Your Plane Association and editor and publisher of General Aviation News and Flyer, a biweekly tabloid. "I think the demand for fly-in living is on the increase," says Sclair. "A lot of public airports have become so crowded, and hangar rents now sometimes go for $400, $600, even $1,000 a month-if you can find them. Plus, it's a life-style thing. People who fly tend to be more independent-minded and like the freedom of doing things now. Fly-in communities give them that freedom."
Some air-friendly outposts are, admittedly, little more than a couple of boxy homes, in the middle of nowhere, with attached planeports. Some of them have bumpy strips, with more weeds than grass. But others—like Brookeridge Aero outside Chicago and Eagle Roost Airdrome near Phoenix—are very livable. They're deluxe, in fact.
Spruce Creek is perhaps the cr�me de la cr�me. Besides the golf and tennis facilities, the community lies but a few miles from the ocean. Disney World is a short flight away. And perhaps the best amenity of all: At Spruce Creek you can get gas for your plane delivered to your hangar door.